OPP officer apologizes for failing to respond to 911 call

The OPP officer who failed to check on a dying Casselman, Ont., woman who had called 911 for help four years ago apologized to her family in Ottawa Tuesday during a coroner's inquest into the death and the emergency response to it.

Kathryn Missen died from severe asthma attack at her home in Casselman, Ont.

Kathryn Missen died from a severe asthma attack after placing a 911 call for help on Sept. 1, 2014. (supplied )

The Ontario Provincial Police officer who failed to check on a dying Casselman, Ont., woman who had called 911 for help four years ago apologized to her family in Ottawa Tuesday during a coroner's inquest into the death and the emergency response to it.

Kathryn Missen, 54, was suffering a severe asthma attack on the afternoon of Sept. 1, 2014, when her frantic 911 call reached an operator at the OPP emergency call centre in North Bay, Ont., 400 kilometres away. The operator, who testified Monday, couldn't understand what Missen was saying. 

I haven't forgiven myself for what happened.- OPP Const. David Dionne

The operator transferred the call to OPP in Smiths Falls, Ont., where it took a dispatcher there 90 minutes to contact the police detachment in Embrun​, Ont., and advise an officer to go to Missen's home, about 25 kilometres away.

The inquest heard the Smiths Falls dispatcher determined from the phone company that there was "a problem with [Missen's] line."

'Trouble on the line'

OPP Const. David Dionne, 34, told the inquest he "gasped" when he learned the call had first been placed 90 minutes earlier.

"It made me believe it was a technical issue with the phone line," he said. "I've had this happen many times."

Dionne said he then got busy responding to other 911 calls and "didn't remember about [Missen's] call."

The dispatcher in Smiths Falls called Dionne back 11 hours later to ask what had come of the call.

"I confirmed there was trouble on the line," Dionne testified. 

Term interpreted differently

Kathryn Missen's sister, Brenda Missen, who attended the inquest, said the family has been told "trouble on the line" can mean different things.

"It can mean anything," she said. "Trouble on the line can mean the cord has been pulled out of the wall by an angry husband, or the line has been burned up in a fire. You can't tell what trouble on the line means unless you physically go to the house."

Dionne didn't go to Missen's home, despite OPP policy to check up on every 911 call.

"Based on my past experience with similar calls, I was 100 per cent sure it was a technical problem with the phone rather than someone who needed help," he testified. 

Dionne was asked what he'd have done had he known the woman on the other end of the line was heard gasping and moaning when she first placed the 911 call.

"I would have dropped everything to go and save her," he said, breaking down. "A human life is the most important thing that is out there." 

OPP Const. David Dionne was temporarily demoted after failing to follow up on a 911 call from a Casselman, Ont., woman who later died. (Laurie Fagan/CBC )

Officer demoted

Last year Dionne pleaded guilty to two counts of neglect of duty in relation to the incident and was demoted from first to second-class constable for two years. Dionne has been on leave from the OPP for a little more than two years. 

 Dionne addressed Missen's three sisters and daughter, some of whom he'd met at his earlier disciplinary hearing. 

"I haven't forgiven myself for what happened," he told them. "When you hugged me at my hearing, 10,000 pounds was lifted off my shoulders. There's not a day goes by that I don't think about Kathryn. She appears in my dreams and she is smiling.

"I sincerely want to apologize for everything you have had to go through — the failure of an organization and my part in that," he continued. "It's been really hard for me, and I don't think I will return to policing, and that's just the way it is." 

Brenda Missen said her family doesn't hold Dionne responsible for her sister's death, and instead placed the blame on the convoluted system for handling 911 calls in the province.

The inquest continues Wednesday, and is scheduled to continue until Nov. 2.